October 17, 2015 AgricultureHealthSociety

Pay Drechsel Recognized for his Research on Safe Wastewater Use in the Rural-Urban Interface

Pay Drechsel’s research has played an important role in developing options for safe wastewater use in countries where treatment capacities are low and informal wastewater use is a common feature of irrigated urban and peri-urban agriculture in support of urban food security.

He has been awarded the IWA Water and Development Award for Research for increasing our knowledge on low-cost safety options along the farm to fork pathway. This work directly supported the World Health Organization’s multi-barrier concept for safe wastewater irrigation.

“Pay Drechsel has been very instrumental in the promotion and follow-up to the publication of the 2006 WHO Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Grey Water in Agriculture and Aquaculture,” says Robert Bos, the former WHO Coordinator of Water, Sanitation and Health. “And his initiative to develop a business-plan approach to scaling up wastewater use in agriculture provided the trigger for WHO to develop the sanitation safety plan concept”. Aside WHO, also FAO, USAID/USEPA and many others have been influenced by this work.

“This recognition is a fantastic acknowledgment of more than a decade of research,” said Drechsel, “which I like to share with my family, colleagues and former students, as well as the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) which entrusted me with the task to conceptualize and coordinate our work on water quality, food safety and resource recovery”.

German by origin, Pay Drechsel graduated as environmental scientist from the University of Bayreuth and started his career as consultant in Africa. He then became as research coordinator for the continent at the International Board of Soil Research and Management (IBSRAM), being first based in Bangkok and then Ghana where he opened the organization’s new Africa office. After IWMI incorporated IBSRAM in 2001, Drechsel worked as its sub-regional representative for West Africa, expanding the number of IWMI staff in Ghana from five to over thirty. In 2005 he became a research division leader.

During his 11 years in West Africa, Drechsel comprehensively analyzed the links between rural-urban food demands and the urban footprint. Given the high density of irrigating farmers in and around cities, he was particularly interested in the pollution of water bodies and options to mitigate the consequent food safety risks. His work influenced legislation in Ghana from urban bylaws to national strategies, development plans and policies as well as several international water reuse guidelines. This work on safe wastewater management was also one of several highlights cited in 2012 award of the Stockholm Water Prize to the International Water Management Institute.

Aware of the constraints that low-income countries face, Drechsel’s research has from the start been geared towards locally appropriate solutions. This has expanded the technical discussion to include social, economic and institutional options for supporting, for example, the trajectory from informal to formal wastewater use. With a wide breadth of interests ranging from his roots in soil fertility and plant nutrition, to the economics of land degradation, and from participatory on-farm research on incentives for behavior change, to business modeling for transforming fecal sludge into a safe but also viable fertilizer, Drechsel has strongly promoted an inter-disciplinary and impact-orientated approach.

“This Award from the IWA, the largest global association of water professionals, is very special as it is recognizing the importance of applied research carried out in those places where the technical solutions we all prefer to see are not yet in place,” said Drechsel.

This emphasis on applied science has steered the second thrust of his research work on the viability of resource recovery. While water, nutrient and energy reuse are well understood concepts, implementation beyond fully subsidized pilots seldom occurs in the developing world. After moving to the IWMI HQ in Sri Lanka in 2009, Drechsel has coordinated since 2012 a multi-disciplinary research flagship dedicated to business models for resource recovery and reuse under the IWMI led CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems. This has garnered significant attention, both from fellow researchers and the development community.

With over 300 publications, half in peer-reviewed books and journals, and a large array of co-supervised graduate and postgraduate students, Drechsel is recognized as a visionary research leader in the agriculture-sanitation interface of developing countries, and competent scientific and technical advisor to numerous projects, international donors and UN agencies.